Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “AIDS and Its Metaphors” as Want to Read:
AIDS and Its Metaphors
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

AIDS and Its Metaphors

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  408 ratings  ·  35 reviews

In 1978 Susan Sontag wrote Illness as Metaphor, a classic work described by Newsweek as "one of the most liberating books of its time." A cancer patient herself when she was writing the book, Sontag shows how the metaphors and myths surrounding certain illnesses, especially cancer, add greatly to the suffering of patients and often inhibit them from seeking proper treatmen

Hardcover, 96 pages
Published 1989 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about AIDS and Its Metaphors, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about AIDS and Its Metaphors

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.98  · 
Rating details
 ·  408 ratings  ·  35 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of AIDS and Its Metaphors
Apr 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019, recs
A thought-provoking follow-up to Illness as Metaphor, AIDS and Its Metaphors examines the dehumanizing ways American society discusses and treats those living with illness. The work starts off by recapitulating the major ideas of its predecessor, but it quickly shifts directions. Across eight succinct sections Sontag convincingly argues that the central metaphor associated with AIDS is that of the plague. Paying close attention to the racism, homophobia, and classism that stigmatize the syndrome ...more
Feb 15, 2016 rated it liked it
In AIDS and Its Metaphors, Sontag clarifies and defends the position she took ten years earlier in Illness as Metaphor, and extends some of her thoughts on disease metaphors to what is now – in 1988 – the new, stigmatized, apocalyptic disease: AIDS. Compared to her previous work, this was, to me, less coherent and incisive, although it still offer much to consider.

The story of AIDS, which was highly relevant, of course, when Sontag was writing, is now more distant as AIDS has become – at least
Dec 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: essays
While I love the premise of this (trying to show how public perception of diseases morphed from the cancer scare of the 60-70's into the AIDS crisis of the 80's), I found the first part of this to be fairly dated. Obviously this was published at a time when even managing HIV was essentially a non-possibility. Our understanding of and ability to manage HIV has grown exponentially in the subsequent decades (thank you, medical science), even if many of the attitudes of shame and ignorance around it ...more
Aug 31, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: essays
returned home to los angeles this summer, ignored (and continue to ignore) my obligations, and watched (the far too white, male [and also i guess biomedically focused but that at least felt like a deserved choice re: presenting one of many worthy AIDS narratives in the world, as long as it's consciously among a worthy plurality]) how to survive a plague one night. the next night, watched united in anger: a history of ACT UP. read through some transcripts of ACT UP oral histories. the next night, ...more
Bethany Sederdahl
Aug 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Sontag challenges the imagery of warfare as applied to medicine and explains that this long-standing metaphor puts the patient at risk of being seen as an 'unavoidable casualty [or] the enemy.' She confronts the apocalyptic fears and uncertainties surrounding the AIDS epidemic of the 80s. Despite being written in the pre-ART era, this essay offers poignant and fresh insights into societal and medical responses to emerging 'plagues.' ...more
Dec 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I'm becoming obsessed with Sontag at the moment, she's so smart and well read and such a good writer. She wrote this over ten years after Illness as Metaphor and it's pretty amazing to read her reflections and extensions on that. I love reading things like this when people return to their work after a long break. This is IMO even better than Illness as metaphor, which was about TB's metaphors for overconsumption and giving too much license to the "passions", and cancer's association with repress ...more
Ned Rifle
Dec 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Always nice to hear someone taking words seriously for a good length of time, will have to reread after having read Illness and its Metaphors.
May 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
I finally got to read this book! I'm a fan of Sontag, and had to see what she was saying about HIV / AIDS in 1988, five years or so before ART was invented and changed the progression of the virus for those who could afford this.
This is a great follow up to Illness as Metaphor.
The book had more of a focus on linguistic discourses around HIV and AIDS than I was expecting, and less of a focus on the state's use of the threat of HIV / AIDS as a method of increasing social control / adding to the
Jul 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Landmark essay on AIDS, language, and society.
Michael Palkowski
Mar 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Give it back to the war marker.

A brilliant essay unhinging the metaphoric language which constitutes our understanding of not only AIDS but diseases in general. Her work is fantastic at showcasing the power of language and how ideas despite their non valid, tenuous associations and dis proven quality retain for generations stigmatizing people and thus their willingness sometimes to get effective treatment due to potential "social" deaths which precede the literal physical one. Analyzing the mil
Oct 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: critical-theory
This is the first book I've read of Sontag's. She's a very good writer, even if, like the rest of much critical theory, plays fast and loose with the proofs—there's a reason Lakoff's Metaphors We Live By is not a touchstone of modern linguistics—the arguments remain, just the same, compelling. She attempts a kind of genealogy (though an overwhelmingly linguistic and discursive one) of the ways in which the language of illness has been mobilized to determine its treatment and reception. It is a w ...more
Kaethe Douglas
Jul 08, 2014 rated it liked it
Probably this deserves more credit, but I'm so tired of the illness as metaphor concept, I'm willing to low-ball the messenger. ...more
Grant Hartley
Apr 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Full of insights and resonances in the age of COVID-19.
Dec 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Reactions to the AIDS epidemic are combed by Susan Sontag here to point out how AIDS and its particular rhetoric both prefigure and reflect our economic, social, and medical life. For example, reactions to AIDS reveal our global connectedness just like the effects of "industrial pollution and the new system of global financial markets":

the AIDS crisis is evidence of a world in which nothing important is regional, local, limited; in which everything that can circulate does, and every problem is,
Jerry Wall
Jul 18, 2019 rated it it was ok
Metaphor, Aristotle wrote, "consists in giving the thing a name that belongs to something else." p. 93
It seems that societies need to have one illness which becomes identified with evil, and attaches blame to its "victims." but it is hard to be obsessed with more than one. p. 104
. . . the need to make a dreaded disease foreign. p 135
the very concept of wrong, which is archaically identical with the non-us, the alien.p. 136
. . . xenophobic propaganda has always depicted immigrants as bearers of
Apr 19, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I reread Illness as Metaphor before moving on to AIDS and Its Metaphors, and that was the right choice, since AIDS and Its Metaphors builds so much off of Illness as Metaphor, and begins by addressing Sontag's changes in thinking since Illness as Metaphor. AIDS and Its Metaphors is a bit more wide-ranging than Illness, which kept a fairly narrow focus on tuberculosis and cancer. AIDS and Its Metaphors gets more into what pre-disposes a disease to be used metaphorically, and the difference betwee ...more
Marisa Miller-McDowell
Dec 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is one of the most important books I’ve read when it comes to the way we talk about illness. It is also super helpful in looking at how we use illness to talk about other things. I would have rated it 5 stars but I only read it too late when it has lost some of its relevance.
Ewa Ahmad
Dec 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I spent my semester this Fall writing an extremely detailed biochemical and microbiological paper on HIV-1. Reading this alongside my science writing bubble was necessary, and I recommend this book to every single person.
Walt Odets
Feb 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It's a wonderful piece of work, and not just about AIDS. It's a book about humanity. ...more
Erica Avey
Mar 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Jul 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
As relevant today as it was in 1989 (a depressing thought).
Shawn Simmons
Jan 31, 2021 rated it it was amazing
ok gonna start logging these again :)
Dec 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
This essay is a good addition to works I read earlier this year in medical sociology on the construction of illness, stigma, and the role of metaphor in assigning 'blame' and/or 'foreignness' to specific maladies. Sontag argues that AIDS really brings up some atavistic attitudes in our culture, specifically those surrounding plagues of the past. Key quote:

"The age-old, seemingly inexorable process whereby diseases acquire meanings (by coming to stand for the deepest fears) and inflict stigma is
Pretty dated elaboration on AIDS and how it has been used metaphorically during its short time in the limelight back when Sontag wrote this book. By now, it is more of a historical document of a time when AIDS was tantamount to nuclear bombs and, god forgive, viruses installed on floppy disks. It's a bit of a mess, really, this short book, and lacks clear focus throughout. At times, it is kind of interesting though, hence the two star rating. ...more
Ann Pastor EVHS
Feb 20, 2015 rated it liked it
The book was full of information. I dont really suggest reading it unless you know someone going through with it this kind of sickness. but after reading the book im surprised on how many assumptions we make and from that we need to learn more about it.
Mar 11, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Effectively addresses how AIDS has been moralized. Those who are not understood are blamed for what is not understood.
Matthew Dix
Jan 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
I have little to offer regarding Sontag's essay, except that I advise you read it in the best of health. ...more
Jacqueline Bocian
Sontag is so brilliant, even a book about such a grim topic is fascinating. A mind-exerciser, and an eye opener
Of its time, but helpful for my dissertation LR ☺️
B C2 R6
topics  posts  views  last activity   
500 Great Books B...: AIDS and Its Metaphors - Susan Sontag 2 20 Apr 23, 2015 02:04PM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • People in Trouble
  • Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson
  • Gravity and Grace
  • The Undying
  • Je suis un monstre qui vous parle : Rapport pour une académie de psychanalystes
  • Shuni
  • In the Dream House
  • Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter
  • Betoniyö
  • Hungry: A Young Model's Story of Appetite, Ambition, and the Ultimate Embrace of Curves
  • Howard Hughes: The Secret Life
  • Cleanness
  • The Looting Machine: Warlords, Oligarchs, Corporations, Smugglers, and the Theft of Africa's Wealth
  • Jews Don’t Count
  • Les falaises
  • Calling Bullshit: The Art of Skepticism in a Data-Driven World
  • Pale Horse, Pale Rider
  • La Femme qui fuit
See similar books…
See top shelves…
Susan Sontag was born in New York City on January 16, 1933, grew up in Tucson, Arizona, and attended high school in Los Angeles. She received her B.A. from the College of the University of Chicago and did graduate work in philosophy, literature, and theology at Harvard University and Saint Anne’s College, Oxford.

Her books include four novels, The Benefactor, Death Kit, The Volcano Lover, and In Am

News & Interviews

When it comes to whiling away the dog days of summer, nothing is better than a good book. Or two. Or three. Let’s say ten! We’re getting...
7 likes · 0 comments
“Like other diseases that arouse feelings of shame, AIDS is often a secret, but not from the patient. A cancer diagnosis was frequently concealed from patients by their families; an AIDS diagnosis is at least as often concealed from their families by patients.” 1 likes
More quotes…